Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Mediocre Books

I was thinking of how a really, really good book makes me feel inadequate as a writer. I keep thinking if I had a fraction of the talent or discipline or perseverance of that author, that I'd be orders of magnitude better. I am simultaneously inspired and defeated. I find myself asking if the world needs another mediocre book written by me.

Then I come across books that are poorly written or don't grab me. I used to finish each and every book I picked up, but no more. I simply do not have the time to waste on books that I don't enjoy. But one of the things that a poorly written book does is boost my self-confidence. If that twaddle could be published, I can definitely write something better and get paid for it.

I'm not going to name books or authors that I do not like because frankly, I do not want to hurt anybody's feelings on what is a very subjective matter, but I was wondering whether others feel the same as I do.



Mirka Breen said...

I’m with you, Vijaya. I used to view the starting of each book I read as a commitment to the finish. Now I value my time a lot more.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Vijaya. I just had that exact experience twice times in the past week -- books I was looking forward to because I'd read good things about them or because the author was promoting them so sincerely. One I felt especially bad about, for the author. I just might PM you to see if either of them were the ones that inspired your post!

inluvwithwords said...

I know exactly what you mean. I returned a book to the library today though I hadn't finished it. I had plenty of time to read it but it just didn't keep my interest. And I had another book waiting for me there that I was dying to start. There's definitely not enough time in the day to stick with a book if you're not enjoying it.
I used to feel defeated when I'd read an amazing book. Thinking that my writing would never be that good, so why bother? But now I let those books inspire me, and I hope that each one teaches me something that will improve my writing.

Karen Strong said...

Ha, I SO feel this way too. When I read something amazing, I'm like "Why bother?"

But then when I read something that's bad (to me), I'm like "I can do so much better. Let me pull out my manuscript." LOL.

But then I usually go back to the amazing book and break it down and see how it done. I do learn more from the amazing books than the "bad" ones. The bad ones just make me feel better. :)

Vijaya said...

Mirka, it took a long time to squash those school-girl attitudes. So freeing to be a grown up and toss a book you don't like into the return bin.

Anne, I doubt we're reading the same books because I was going through some PBs. But I agree the let-down when you pick up a book you're excited to read, but the execution just isn't there.

Ruth and Karen, you have both reminded me to do something that I do periodically -- deconstruct beloved books. I've done this for short stories as well and it's so instructive for learning how to structure and pace your own.

Faith E. Hough said...

Yes, I feel exactly the same. I've finally learned to be only inspired by great writing--and I try to avoid the mediocre altogether. Although last week, my daughters randomly chose some picture books from the library which their sweet papa read to them...and the rest of the night (when they were in bed) he ranted, "Who publishes these things?!"

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

I'm so with you. I can't tell you how many books I abandon. It's horrible. When you find a gem that holds you, though, it's worth it. I admit, I do struggle with how picky I'm getting. I wasn't always this way! I'll blame being "in the industry," I guess. Sometimes I miss those days before I knew any better and could just be a reader!


Vijaya said...

Faith, I always let my kids pick out their own books along with the the ones that I want to read with them, and I am often appalled at their choices, esp. when they were younger. This is actually what got me started on writing better concept books for my kiddos.

Amy, you make a good point. We're probably getting picky because we are writers. We want the best!

Marcia said...

Totally with you: no finishing books that don't hook me. Life is WAY too short. I just got one the other day that I was really looking forward to reading. Nope. Back to the library she goes.

I'm wondering if I'm not more the opposite. Something along the lines of: If THIS can get published, then maybe I'm way off, because no way I'm doing THIS. But if I read a book I love, I'm all fired up to go out and do likewise.

Bish Denham said...

Absolutely. But it's only been recently (like in the last 3 or 4 year) that I learned to put a book down if I couldn't get into it. Life is too short, I'm too slow a reader, and there are too many books out there to read. I have to be picky.

Vijaya said...

Marcia, I don't think it's quite the opposite as you think. When I read something badly written or not to my taste, it doesn't ever make me want to write THAT, but simply makes me feel like I can do better. And you're right that I should let the great books inspire me and not let myself wallow in my own inadequacies.

Bish, life is really too short. And time lost is lost forever. It's the only thing that moves forward. It's not like money, which you can recoup if you lose it.

MollyMom103 said...

As a person who always reads the end of a book first, I have always been able to abandon books. Some books, I think, die on the way to publication. The whole thing falls apart because of all kinds of pressures -- publication schedule, editors on maternity leave, editors leaving and projects not getting the love they deserved. I also think some books just aren't my cup of tea. I do feel that mediocre books give me a sense of where the low bar and that can give me a booste of confidence. :)

dbp said...

If I was a professional novelist, here is what I would do:

Step 1. Find a really bad book that sold really well

Step 2. Find out who the author's agent is and beg them to represent me.

Step 3. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Or. Be so darn good that I could be represented by a total idiot and still sell fantastically.

As you can see, if I did write, my genre would certainly be fantasy.

Mary Witzl said...

YES! Reading mediocre books fills me with equal measures of irritation, guilt, and hope. Irritation because however awful the book is, you just KNOW that whoever wrote it must have done her best to get it published; guilt because I wonder if I'm not being too critical -- if I'm not telling myself the book is bad because of sour grapes; hope because if such codswallop can get published, surely my efforts can.

Like you, I used to finish everything I started to read just as I used to eat everything on my plate. But I now hoard my precious reading time even more carefully than I watch my waistline.

Vijaya said...

Molly, you're so right about gauging where the bar is when it comes to mediocre books. You also make me think of how many good books don't get published because of the vagaries of the industry.

David, that made me laugh. But I think you might have a grain of truth.

Mary, I'm surprised that you added feelings of guilt. But it makes sense when you explain it. I'm with you about watching the waistline. Wait, what waistline? It disappeared a few years ago. Sigh.